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Paramedic with PTSD launches new mental health tool for first responders

Former B.C. paramedic Jeff Smith says the detachment technique saved his life
Long-time B.C. paramedic Jeff Smith stands beside his former colleague Shelley O’Rourke. Smith has partnered up with health care professionals and first responders to launch a non-profit aimed at helping first responders who suffer from PTSD. (Submitted photo)

Jeff Smith dedicated his life to serving the public as a paramedic. After facing his own mental health battles from being first on scene to some of the worst emergencies, he’s now dedicating himself to treating post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by fellow first responders.

Over a 20-year career as a B.C. paramedic, Smith learned to put his emotions aside and do his job, he told Black Press Media in a phone interview Thursday (Jan. 27).

But over time, Smith found the trauma he was exposed to had stayed with him all those years.

READ MORE: B.C. paramedics focus of PTSD documentary

“I had a really challenging call in 2009 that involved a young child who was fatally struck by a vehicle. At the time I had a young family and a two-year-old boy at home,” he said. “I remember driving home to my family and thinking when am I going to process what just happened today? I put those emotions aside to the point where it really started to affect me.”

The trauma he experienced led him to try and find comfort in alcohol and prescription drugs. His marriage began to fall apart. He lacked the motivation to do basic daily tasks. Flashbacks of traumatic events haunted him. He couldn’t sleep through the night as nightmares would wake him — keeping him up for days at a time.

“Finally, thanks to my wife because we ended up going to a marriage councillor, the marriage councillor put me in the direction of a psychologist and I was diagnosed with PTSD.”

Smith continued to work despite struggling. He tried many different conventional therapies, including exposure therapy, but found them challenging. Last year, Smith attempted suicide.

READ MORE: B.C.-born firefighter remembered by MP in emotional speech

It was finally once Smith was connected with Steve King, a registered councillor from Penticton, who developed a strategy for coping with PTSD called the Detachment Technique. King has over 30 years of experience working in the field of addiction and trauma.

“It’s a treatment modality that gives first responders and people suffering from PTSD a skillset to help navigate the impacts of shock and trauma,” Smith said.

The two decided to partner up and found a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing the technique with as many people as possible.

The non-profit recently launched a website, which provides resources on treating PTSD for first responders, as well as video training ranging from $110 to $240.

Smith said an app is in the works that will allow people to access the video training on their mobile device. He estimates the app will be ready sometime in the next eight months.

For now, the focus is treating first responders and military service personnel, Smith said.

READ MORE: 350 B.C. first responders to gather and talk about their mental health

“There’s still a huge stigma that exists among first responders and there are a lot of cultural barriers — people are afraid to put their hands up and ask for help or let others know that they’re struggling. This is something that can be done confidentially. Nobody has to know what they’re doing.”

The hope is that one day people from all over the world will be able to access the resource.

Other therapies can be accessed through their website including dieticians, yoga therapists and essential oils. All funds are put back into the operation of the non-profit.


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